December 31, 2020 

‘We will control what we can control’: SEC navigates 2020-21

SEC hit with rash of cancellations and rescheduling due to Covid-19

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Ole Miss head coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin. (Photo courtesy of Ole Miss Athletics)

The presence of Covid-19 has prompted several SEC schools to shuffle both their start dates and opponents for conference play.

Take a seat, pull out a pencil, a pad — maybe even a calculator — and keep score.

It started a week ago when the Ole Miss Rebels announced their SEC season opener at South Carolina on Dec. 31 was being postponed “due to a combination of positive tests, contact tracing and subsequent quarantining of individuals within the Ole Miss program.”  

“It’s been a challenge for everybody in sports right now,” Ole Miss head coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin told The Next on Wednesday. “There is so much uncertainty and the anxiety … you’re waiting for test results and don’t know what’s going to happen.

“Obviously we’re in a pause right now. That is a whole different beast,” she continued. “What we’ve been doing as a staff is try to live in the present and control what we can control and that’s our attitude, effort and energy. That’s it. And be prepared to pivot as we go day by day.”

The latest cancellations happened Tuesday when the Tennessee Lady Volunteers announced they were pausing all team activities “due to a combination of a positive test, contact tracing and subsequent quarantining of individuals within the Tennessee program.”

As a result, their upcoming games at Texas A&M (Dec. 31, both schools’ conference opener) and against Kentucky (Jan. 3) have been postponed.

Just a day earlier, on Monday, Vanderbilt announced that it was pausing basketball activity and the start of SEC play “due to a combination of positive tests, contact tracing and subsequent quarantining of individuals within the Vanderbilt women’s basketball program.”

As a result, three of Vandy’s conference games were postponed: Thursday’s SEC opener against Florida, Sunday at Mississippi State and Jan. 7 at Missouri.    

Its final non-conference game — set for Monday against Samford — was also canceled due to circumstances surrounding COVID-19.

Y’all good? OK, but wait, we’re not finished. 

The Florida Gators then announced they would open SEC play at South Carolina on Thursday instead after their originally scheduled game at Vanderbilt was postponed.

“This year … our players know that it was going to be a year of pivoting and being ready and mentally being strong,” South Carolina coach Dawn Staley said during her Zoom media conference Wednesday. “Whatever the hand is we are dealt, we’ve got to play it.”

To make this happen, Florida moved its originally scheduled Feb. 25 game at South Carolina to Thursday, Dec. 31, as the Gamecocks’ game against Ole Miss had been previously announced as postponed and the teams both had openings in their respective schedules.

A makeup date for Florida’s matchup at Vanderbilt has yet to be established.

Now the Ole Miss Rebels have announced that their Jan. 3 game against LSU has been pushed back one day to Mon., Jan. 4, with tipoff now slated for 3 p.m. CT inside The Pavilion and on SEC Network+.

With the ongoing cancellations and schedule shuffling — and the pandemic still raging — many may wonder if an SEC school, or the conference itself, will go the way of the Duke University women’s basketball program.

The school announced on Dec. 25 that it was canceling the rest of its season, after playing four games, due to Covid-19 concerns. The decision was made by the players, per a news release announcing the decision.

When asked if that could ever happen in the SEC, McPhee-McCuin did not rule it out.

“It’s definitely a possibility that any of those things could happen. I’m not surprised the team opted out. It’s scary,” she said. “I don’t judge because I don’t know anyone’s situation. I just try to control ours. It’s not been easy and I’m not sure that will be the last one.”

If her team decided to opt out, McPhee-McCuin said she’d support what her players decided.

“For me, we are only going to do what’s best for our players. And we’re going to support them and if our players feel like they don’t want to go (play), obviously that will be a conversation that we have to have and we’ll support them through it,” she said. “There’s a reason why the NCAA granted another year (to players due to Covid): they knew that this would be difficult.

“So that’s how we look at it. We’re going to take it one day at a time.”’

Well, you’re all caught up. For now.

Just wait a minute or two — the situation remains fluid and we wish the best for all of those directly affected by the coronavirus. There are several games yet to be rescheduled and the ones that are scheduled … let’s just say they are written in pencil.

Meanwhile, there’s lots more going on around the SEC: Let’s take a look at some highlights.

Double-Double, Lots of (Good) Trouble

Tennessee guard/forward Rennia Davis was named SEC Women’s Basketball Player of the Week (week of Dec. 23).

Davis scored a season-high 19 points and grabbed a career-best 15 rebounds as the Lady Vols took down preseason Big Ten favorite #15/15 Indiana in Bloomington, 66-58, last week.

The 6’2 senior from Jacksonville, Fla. averaged a double-double of 14.0 points and 10.5 rebounds last week. She added 2.5 assists per contest and shot 59.1 percent from the field, including 66.7 percent from the 3-point arc.

The double-double vs. Indiana was her second of the season and 31st of her career, tying her for seventh all-time at Tennessee with Isabelle Harrison. 

On Monday, she scored another double-double (19-11). That ties her with 2021 Naismith Memorial and Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Tamika Catchings at 32 — sixth all-time in career double-doubles at Tennessee.

In other Tennessee news, the team lost starting center Keyen Green, who went down two days before the Indiana game with a season-ending leg injury. 

A&M Keeps Rolling

The Texas A&M Aggies completed non-conference play with an undefeated record for the first time in program history, finishing 9-0 against non-conference opponents this season.

Their latest victory was a 112-26 thrashing of Northwestern State on Monday night. 

That’s a program record for points scored, beating the 111 set against Lamar on Nov. 15, 1995. The last time the Aggies crossed the century mark was a 104-point outburst against Arkansas on Feb. 22, 2018. 

They also cemented the largest margin of victory in program history, defeating the Lady Demons by an 86-point differential. The previous program record for margin of victory was 83 points, last set on Nov. 21, 2006 against McNeese State.

A&M’s defense did not allow a single Northwestern State player to score in double figures, a feat last accomplished against Alabama on Jan. 13, 2019. In addition, the Aggie bench outscored the starters 69-43.

Whatever the Aggies are having for breakfast, I’d like some.

Freshman Phenom

Ole Miss women’s basketball forward Madison Scott was named SEC Freshman of the Week (week of Dec. 23) for the second week in a row. Scott is now one of five Rebels to have ever earned the honor multiple times in the same season.

Scott — an ESPN five-star addition to Ole Miss from Indian Head, Maryland — shot .471 overall and .667 from the free throw line while averaging 11.0 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.0 assists across two wins vs. Jackson State (89-65) and at George Mason (64-34). Against Jackson State, Scott notched her first career double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds, combining with Shakira Austin to become the first Rebel duo to have concurrent double-doubles in a game since 2018.

She leads all SEC freshmen in scoring (12.2 PPG) and rebounding (7.8 RPG) and ranks 13th nationally among all freshmen in rebounding.

Written by Dorothy J. Gentry

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